The discussion of mental health, and raising mental health awareness, is on a rapid uprise as more and more people are becoming comfortable with speaking about their troubles. Whilst some may argue that mental health awareness is creating a signifiant impact on society, and is destroying the marginalisation and stigmatisation of those who do struggle with mental health issues- I’d have to disagree. Of course, I believe that raising awareness towards mental health is a good thing that has achieved somewhat success in its purpose. However, I also believe that we as society have become lazy with our awareness and aren’t being inclusive, which has created more negative impacts than positive.
Society has found a way to frequently discuss mental health issues in a way that dilutes it’s significance, and isn’t inclusive to those disorders that are much less understood or even accepted by society. Whilst it’s easy to believe that all people who suffer from mental health issues are stigmatised, this frankly isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, its a great thing that we have evolved to be more open and accepting to people who struggle with a number of mental health disorders (particularly the most common ones), but we can’t ignore that this in turn has not only caused a larger gap between the disorders that are largely focused on vs. ‘the others’, but has also lead to mental health disorders being romanticised.
Mental health disorders, such as Anxiety and depression, have now become a ‘cool’, ‘quirky’ personality trait that people aren’t taking as seriously as they should. I’d first witnessed evidence to this when I was fourteen, and almost every person around my age that I’d encountered, particularly on social media platforms such as Tumblr, had said they struggled with one of these two disorders. As a result, pictures and posts expressing depressive thoughts and insinuating self harm practices frequently circulated the site, and people were eager to link these posts onto their personal sites as a way of representing themselves.
I always had a great understanding of Anxiety and Depression due to this, but my thoughts on any other mental health disorder were wrong and harmful as I was not only uneducated on the topic, but was led to believe through the media that those other people were just crazy and ‘too far gone’ to be saved. An alarming study that can be seen here from Mirror Magazine, reported that 34% of teenagers had admitted to lying about having a mental illness in the past. Almost half of the teenagers who took part in the study believed that mental illness was something that made people ‘unique’- this is enough evidence to show that we are failing to portray mental health and raise awareness in the right way.
Once I grew up, I began to identify how mental health was being romanticised in the media- with popular tv characters being depicted as ‘cute’ or ‘funny’ due to their OCD, or simply just shy due to their anxiety. I recently watched a highly critiqued Netflix movie Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, which focussed on many problems such as cyberbullying, body issues, and many inappropriate jokes that made light of mental health, disabilities and sexuality. One of these jokes came in the form of the main character contemplating on posing as someone who suffers from Schizophrenia, in order to make her college application stand out. This not only projected the idea to millions of people that having a mental disorder somehow provides you with an advantage over others, but continues to promote the wrong idea about a mental health disorder that is already greatly misunderstood.
Another way in which we have failed to correctly raise awareness for mental health, is by sugar coating mental health disorders and not discussing all areas that are a consequence of it. Yes, it’s useful to discuss how yoga and mindfulness can help with dealing with stress, but we often refrain or shy away from speaking about the darker aspects, such as self harm and suicide, because it makes people uncomfortable. The harsh reality is that suicide claims an estimated one million lives (globally) every year- with one person dying every 40 seconds, which is expected to increase to one person dying every 20 seconds by 2020; Two thirds of suicide victims are men.
You could ask a large amount about people about their knowledge of Anxiety, OCD or Depression and they’re likely to give you a nice paragraph of information or a textbook definition of what the disorders entail. However, if you were to ask a group of people about what knowledge they have on Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Bipolar, Personality disorders or even Addiction- I can almost guarantee that those who know what these disorder are in depth, are the ones who have dealt with them personally or know someone who does.
The point is that Mental Health Awareness day, month, week (whatever) isn’t bringing as much awareness as it should; the ‘awareness’ is selective, exclusive and isn’t tackling the issue of reducing the stigmatisation surrounding mental health. A large majority of people in societies are aware, and in my opinion, accepting of Anxiety and Depression. People are able to identify these problems amongst their friends and within their families, and know how to offer their support/get them to seek help. Mental health is still stigmatised and those who suffer from mental health problems are still marginalised, and we can only blame the lack of awareness surrounding all aspects of mental health for this. People who suffer from mental health problems outside of the most popular and most spoken about disorders, often feel isolated and misunderstood/unrepresented. Not drawing attention to this, perpetuates the idea that they aren’t able to function within society, and that they can’t be helped or saved.
Of course, we’re more likely to have the deepest knowledge of the disorders that we are familiar with, but bringing awareness to mental health isn’t about being selective in the disorders that we can be bothered to speak on. There’s no excuse for not educating ourselves on the many other issues that may be affecting those around us- so when the time does come to speak up, we’re creating grater impact and change (which frankly is the bare minimum of what we should be doing).